Chest pain according to Chinese Medicine

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Chest pain can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like chest pain here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here chest pain is often associated with palpitations, depression and shortness of breath in the pattern “Heart Vessel obstructed”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause chest pain.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of chest pain we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat chest pain.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause chest pain

In Chinese Medicine chest pain is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Heart is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Heart in Chinese Medicine

Heart Vessel obstructed

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Knotted (Jie), Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Heart Vessel obstructed include palpitations, depression and shortness of breath.

Heart Vessel obstructed is often treated with Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates the Blood".

Read more about Heart Vessel obstructed here

The Pericardium is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Pericardium in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium

Pulse type(s): Overflowing (Hong), Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian), Full (Shi)

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium include palpitations, insomnia and anxiety.

Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium is often treated with Wen Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Wen Dan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Hot-Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Red points on the sides

This pattern develops from Liver Qi Stagnation, which creates excessive amount of Heat and then turn into Liver Fire. The Heat is more intense here.

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire include abdominal pain, dizziness and insomnia.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is often treated with Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Mudan Peony Bark - Mu Dan Pi - as a key herb). Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that clear liver-heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi".

Read more about Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire here

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi and Blood Stagnation

Qi and Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red, Red sides

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Qi and Blood Stagnation include abdominal pain, dizziness and insomnia.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi and Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Absence Of Menstruation or Menopausal Syndrome.

Qi and Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Qi and Blood Stagnation here

The Bladder is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Bladder in Chinese Medicine

Heat in Gall Bladder

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Heat in Gall Bladder include bitter taste in the mouth, nausea and stifling sensation in the chest.

Heat in Gall Bladder is often treated with Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Sweet Wormwood Herbs - Qing Hao - as a key herb). Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize lesser yang-warp disorders", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Heat and relieves acute conditions of the Gallbladder".

Read more about Heat in Gall Bladder here

Five herbal formulas that might help with chest pain

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Why might Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi and Blood Stagnation' of which chest pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi and Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang here

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Why might Chai Hu Shu Gan San help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heart Vessel obstructed' of which chest pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heart Vessel Obstructed include palpitations, depression and shortness of breath.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San here

Wen Dan Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Hot-Phlegm. Clears Gallbladder heat. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Wen Dan Tang help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium' of which chest pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm Fire Harassing The Pericardium include palpitations, insomnia and anxiety.

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Source date: 2002 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi.

Why might Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire' of which chest pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire can contribute to many health issues, including Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Read more about Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San here

Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang

Source date: Qing Dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat and relieves acute conditions of the Gallbladder. Relieves acute Damp-Heat syndromes. Resolves Phlegm. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heat in Gall Bladder' of which chest pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heat In Gall Bladder include bitter taste in the mouth, nausea and stifling sensation in the chest.

Read more about Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat chest pain

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance).

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might Bupleurum Root (Chai Hu) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Chai Hu Shu Gan San for instance).

Bupleurum Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Harmonizes exterior and interior. Smoothes the Liver and upraises the Yang.

Read more about Bupleurum Roots here

Why might Immature Bitter Orange (Zhi Shi) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Wen Dan Tang for instance).

Immature Bitter Oranges is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sour. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Large intestine.

Its main actions are: Regulates the flow of Qi in the Middle Burner and reduces Food Stagnation. Moves Qi downward and helps constipation. Reduces Stagnant Phlegm and lessens distention and pain. For prolapse of organs when used with the appropriate herbs.

Read more about Immature Bitter Oranges here

Why might Corydalis Tuber (Yan Hu Suo) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance).

Corydalis Tubers is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Liver and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Moves the Blood, breaks Blood Stagnation and reduces associated pain. Regulates Stagnant Qi and reduces associated pain.

Read more about Corydalis Tubers here

Why might Coco-Grass Rhizome (Xiang Fu) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Wu Yao Tang for instance).

Coco-Grass Rhizomes is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Liver and the Sanjiao.

Its main actions are: Unblocks Stagnant Liver Qi and relieves pain. Regulates the Liver and Spleen. Assists the regulation of menses and relieves pain.

Read more about Coco-Grass Rhizomes here